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Specific Carbohydrate Interview: Jane D. and 15 Years of IBS

March 18, 2008
Name: Jane D.
Location: Vermont

Jane D. started the specific carbohydrate five years ago after suffering from irritable bowel syndrome for 15 years. A former nurse and currently a minister, she shares her experiences, including her first months on the diet, and advice for starting out. In order to help others with the SCD, she co-moderates the scd_newengland email group along with Laura Aronson.

What health issue motivated you to use the specific carbohydrate diet (SCD)?
I started having digestive problems twenty years ago, alternating constipation and diarrhea. Immediately prior to starting the SCD I was going to the bathroom 10 or 15 times a day. It wasn't diarrhea but it wasn't good quality. It was a dribble here, a dribble there. No trophies. This led to a bad case of hemorrhoids.

At the time I served a congregation [as a minister]. On Sunday, I drove half an hour to get to church. Many times I would have to stop somewhere, such as a McDonald's, to use the bathroom. It was no fun.

What did you do when the digestive issues started?
I thought it must be what I'm eating or I'm under stress or another factor.

I liked my job. I had a great relationship with my husband. In that regard, there was nothing wrong with my life. So I started cutting out different foods.

I cut out dairy, I cut out wheat. I cut out corn. It would seem to be better for a little while maybe three months or six months. Then it would start getting bad again.

What else did you try?
I went to an acupuncturist for the hemorrhoids. When the treatment wasn't working, the acupuncturist thought it may be candida so we did the whole candida thing. But that wasn't it.

One of the things she put me on was inulin. I have never been so sick in my entire life. I was doubled up for hours with cramping.

Was that inulin alone or part of a supplement?
The inulin was a powder that you mixed in a drink such as orange juice. It didn't cause diarrhea but it produced painful cramping and gas. It was like being in labor. [note: Jane has two children]

The acupuncturist was very nice. She said, "I cannot help you any more. I've tried everything that I know."

A couple of years later I went to another alternative medicine person who did muscle testing and had me take all of this weird powder. It didn't work. I was at the end of my rope.

At this point, it had been going on for 15 years?
Yes. The hemorrhoids kept getting worse. They would bleed spontaneously. I began wearing sanitary pads--when the hemorroids let go, it was just hemorrhaging.

I couldn't go skiing. I couldn't go running. I couldn't go for a walk. I couldn't do the things I loved to do. It was awful.

Sunday mornings began freaking me out. Because of the hemorrhoids, I also couldn't stand for long periods of time. At church I began sitting on a stool behind the pulpit.

Did you have any tests done?
At one point I attended a community health care fair where they drew blood to test your iron level.

The nurse called me with the result a few days later. It's normally 35 to 40. My measurement was 24. She said, "I can't believe you're walking around."

What did you do next?
I live in the middle of nowhere. [For the two acupuncturists, I had to drive hours.] I never had health insurance so I didn't have the money for a colonoscopy. Not knowing what else to do, I kept googling things.

One day on the internet, the SCD came up. I read what was in the diet. I said, this makes complete sense to me.

Because you had tried eliminating other foods in the past?
Right. I had eliminated corn, wheat, dairy, and soy. I was reduced to eating rice everything. Plain rice. Rice cereal. Rice milk.

I ordered the Breaking the Vicious Cycle, printed out a page of what to eat, and started the SCD.

How did it go?
The gas and bloating were gone immediately. However, the toilet thing was still all over the place, the hermorhoids were bad and that kind of stuff. Also, in the first months I didn't have energy.
Did you use the intro diet?
I didn't do the intro diet because I didn't have the book at first.

But I joined the Long Island list which was a saving grace. I read those posts and stories. I thought, "Oh man, this is really going to work but I'll have to hang in there."

Then I "got it" about not trying to eat everything--to eat a few things and watch for reactions. So what I ate for the first three months wasn't much. It was fish, poultry, hamburger, applesauce, scrambled eggs, and a few vegetables. Even carrots bothered me in the beginning. I ate a lot of spinach, green beans, and winter squash.

I hadn't eaten dairy in so long that I couldn't bring myself to try it. Maybe after a month I tried some nut muffins that went over okay. But I remember when I had the die-off thing.

I was so sick. I was nauseous. I just felt awful. Because people had talked about it, I decided to hang in there. Then it was like a miracle. The next week everything was perfect.

So after three months you began feeling better?
Right. But holy cow. Before the die-off, I didn't have a lot of energy and I felt queasy. Once that gave way, I felt on top of the world.

With my digestion got in order, I visited the bathroom only once or twice a day. This allowed the hemorrhoids to heal.

I also lost 30 pounds. I was shocked.

Was that a good loss or a bad loss?
It was great! It was the last thirty pounds that I couldn't lose after I had my kids. When summer came. I went to put on my shorts and they fell off. I got to be the weight that I'm supposed to be. And I stayed that way. That was an unexpected side effect.
Did you add the SCD-legal dairy back to your diet?
It took another six months before I dared to try the yogurt and then three months after that when I ate [SCD-legal] cheese.
How is your life now?
Now I'm skiing and running again. Doing all the things that I love to do. It was an amazing gift that my health is back.
You've been using the diet for several years, have there been any experiences that stand out?
In the beginning of 2007, I went to Europe for two months with my husband and two young-adult children (17 and 21). We had always wanted to do that.

We went skiing , sightseeing, and we walked long ways, using a lot of public transportation. Before, with my hemorrhoids, I couldn't walk anywhere.

We rented apartments and did a lot of our own cooking. However, for dinner, we often went to restaurants. I was by and large ok with the restaurant food. I would scrape off some sauce. I ate some potato. That was ok. I even tried a little chocolate. After several years on the diet, I didn't have to get so technical at restaurants.

Before the SCD, for my 50th birthday, I had gone to Quebec City with my family. Because of the hemorrhoids, I couldn't walk around. I had to sit in the hotel room.

I was sitting there, turning 50 and thinking, "What kind of life is this?" I had many days much worse, with blood running down my legs and being on the toilet. But the 50th birthday, I felt really stupid that I couldn't walk around, that I couldn't be far from a toilet.

The Europe trip was a completely different experience.

Do you take any supplements, any probiotics?
Not a thing. Unless I travel, then I'll bring some probiotics with me.
Have you had any setbacks at all? How do you deal with those?
There are some SCD legal foods which I don't eat . I don't tolerate spicy foods. Periodically I try something like that and then I go back to eating things which are easy on my system.

Also, I can't have salads at two meals. I can have salad for one meal and cooked vegetables at the other meal. I start to get constipated if I don't have cooked vegetables. I stay strict SCD. At restaurants I'll ask for sauce on the side or salad dressing on the side.

How has your family reacted to the SCD?
When the family eats, I'll make a side of rice or a side of pasta for anyone who wants it, but the rest is SCD.

At one point my daughter picked up some bad water bacteria thing which they couldn't treat so she went on SCD at my encouragement. She was on antibiotics and stuff and couldn't really beat it. She was on SCD for a year and got a lot better. Now she's eased off and eats almost anything but she's very aware of her body. She can't eat too many grains. One piece of bread a day, a little rice. If she's not feeling right, she'll go back to the SCD for a week.

She knows how to regulate it.
Yes. She's really pleased. She makes vegetbles the centerpiece of what she eats rather than grains.
What has been the feedback from the SCD New England list?
It's been good. I have mentored some people off list, e-mailing back and forth for personal questions. Many people appreciate it.
What advice you would give someone thinking about the diet?
Do it. Be serious. Be strict. Of the people who don't have a clear diagnosis, they still want to take a supplement that may be out of the diet, thinking it'll be good for them.

I thought that too. But trust me, take three months and don't take anything off of the SCD. Do this very strictly.

I'm big on telling people that 3 months is better than 1 month.

Because that was your experience.
That was my experience. And maybe you're only going to eat 7 things in the beginning but get over that. Because if it works for you, you'll be able to eat a wider variety of things.

It's also important to to tune into your personal body and what works for you. There may be SCD legal foods may not work for you. And that's OK because there are plenty more that you can use. Don't try to push the envelope.

The funny thing is that I've never eaten junk food and grown much of own food since 1970. Eating whole foods, eating organic. That was part of the mystery of why I had so many problems. In a way SCD was easy for me b/c I always made my own salad dressings or soup or whatever. Another thing I feel I do to help other people is to mentor them with their cooking.

What kind of advice do you give them?
Well, I tell them that you don't need to make a lot of fancy recipes. Some people feel that it's going to be really boring if they don't get everyone's cookbook and cook everything. That's fine if you love to cook.

But if you don't like to cook, learn to make a stir fry, learn how to make a soup. Learn how to make a hamburger or a piece of chicken. Don't worry about complicated recipes. Learn to make salad and salad dressing. Simple.

With your former profession as a registered nurse and your SCD experience, do you ever do any health counseling?
I would love to do that. In town we recently started a time bank exchange where people don't collect money for services but collect time.

I just went over to a woman's house yesterday, spending two hours with a woman in her kitchen, helping her how to cook vegetables and soup. She didn't understand cooking and needed help getting started.

I talk about this diet every chance I get. I've gone back to my acupuncturist and other alternative health doctors and given them a copy of Breaking the Vicious Cycle. I've told them, "Read this. Recommend it to your clients. If anyone has questions, call me."

I'm happy to do it because it's been such a life saver.